Residents on Tuesday strongly encouraged the city of Corvallis to challenge a recently enacted law that limits voter-approved annexations.
Six community members spoke up at a City Council work session, with all of them urging the city to work to overturn Senate Bill 1573. The bill was approved by the Legislature at its recently concluded short session, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it March 15. The law took effect immediately.
“I am in favor of the council defending the right to vote (on annexations),” said Marilyn Koenitzer, who participated in the political struggle that in 1976 made Corvallis the first city in Oregon to have voter-approved annexations in its charter. “We were the first. And it was the right thing to do.”
Earlier in the session, City Attorney Jim Brewer briefed councilors and answered questions on SB 1573 in a 58-minute exchange on city options in which, he said, litigation was the projected outcome of many of the scenarios that were discussed.
Key questions councilors asked included: What takes precedence, state law or the city charter? What happens if the city continues to send annexations to the voters? What would happen to annexations while a legal case was pending? What would a legal fight cost the city?
“You can look at it this way or look at it that way,” said Brewer. “And you can do that all day with this bill.”
Brewer also said that as the city’s chief legal counsel he could not advise the city on its next steps at a work session and could do so only in an executive session.
City Manager Mark Shepard, meanwhile, suggested councilors look at the issue through the lens of the other work that they are doing, particularly the major challenges of plans on vision and climate change that are key council goals.
Shepard noted the city already has two land-use cases in the courts, with the backers of an extension alignment for Kings Boulevard appealing their application to the state Land Use Board of Appeals and the city asking the state Supreme Court to overturn approval of the Coronado apartment complex.
Shepard also suggested that Corvallis might be better served by collaborating with another community rather than taking the lead, “holding the spear rather than being the tip of the spear,” as he put it.
“Nobody wants to be the tip of the spear,” said Jeff Lamb of Philomath, who then added “please be the tip of the spear.”
Lamb also noted that the close 31-29 vote on SB 1573 in the House signals that it could be overturned in the regular session coming up next year.
State Sen. Sara Gelser told the Gazette-Times that she plans to work with both proponents and opponents of SB 1573 to see if it can be amended in some way. One possible approach, Gelser said, would be to exempt smaller cities such as Corvallis from the law.